Resident Alion in Winter -- March, 1994

It's not spring , but it's kinda nice. You know the time called high summer , when the maple leaves get dusty and the cicadas sound like the Second Coming? This is that part of winter. We still have two feet of snow and, for the first time in years, there's a crust on it that I can dance on with a light dusting of fresh snow on top that just glows in the late winter afternoon sunshine.

There's always a sub-hyperborean city of mice, shrews, voles and smaller dwellers beneath the the snow cover busy with their notions of haute cuisine and family planning. But when the snow lays on long, hunger (or maybe just adventurousness) sends a few hardy souls out onto the great white plain to visit last fall's seed pods that dribble onto the snow or last week's addition to the kitchen midden. Last night's dusting of snow over the smooth crust relates to their size about the way a foot of snow relates to a highway plow -- one leaves a furrow rather than individual tracks from a distant tuft of timothy to a nearby clutch of hairy fescue, with a meandering detour through the compost heap, the well cover and an intriguing bit of rubbish. Or a zigzag little track from the woods finally disappears under the woodpile.

Now our tomcat, something like a cross between Nero Wolf and Garfield, has read the local rag under his cat dish (wellll, ok, he just looks at the pictures; It's not brains he gets from Nero Wolf) and knows about the annual ice fishing contest on the La Have River, a weekend of revelry in an ad hoc village of "fish shacks" so outrageous as to defy casual description, an event at which a hundred square inches of black, icy water can consume a whole night of talk and (indirectly) an Imperial quart of strong rum. And our cat has discovered Ice-Mousing! From the dooryard, I can track him -- I know it's him because he's the only one of our three cats whose undercarriage leaves drag marks in the snow like a sagging, long-haired muffler -- from hummock to grass tuft, from inconspicuous mousehole in the ice to promising bramble stalk, perambulating the perimeter as old Yankees used to say, till out near the edge of the woods there's scuffle marks around one hole in the ice and a more or less direct line of tracks back to a properly marked piece of turf in the dooryard suitable for dining.

Orts. Fine old word. Three tiny feet and a tail.

I wonder if I should build him a little shack and stock it with a nip of Capt. Morgan's and a Sterno can.

Mike Spencer -- March, 1994; December 2008
Resident Alien is an occasional publication of the Bridgewater Institute for Advanced Study. It appears variously in electronic, paper and other formats such as serial gummed labels.